Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Triumph of Anticollecting Ideology


I reported the latest outrage, by which the State Department's notorious Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs ignored the clearest possible message from the US public regarding import restrictions on ancient coins of Italian origin. Statistics were absolutely overwhelming. The vast majority of those responding opposed adding ancient coins to renewal of the MOU with Italy. Their inputs were callously ignored.

As veteran analyst (and knowledgeable attorney) Peter Tompa observed, once again, in pursuit of its tight uncritical ideological alignment with archaeologists who control the AIA, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs:
(1) changed existing precedent allowing for an exemption, though there has been no change in the underlying facts;
(2) ignored the vast majority of the public comment against such restrictions at the MOU hearing before CPAC;
(3) ignored the concerns raised by members of Congress;
(4) imposed requirements that only discriminate against American collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade; and
(5) issued impossible to comply with documentation requirements at the very moment President Obama and Congress have promised to scale back job killing regulations.

This particular decision was a great disappointment to me personally, as I had cherished perhaps unrealistic illusions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had the administrative abilities and executive judgment to realize that she is presiding over an organization that is out of control, which must be brought back into alignment with the real interests of American citizens, instead of continuing in its present disgraceful role as an uncritical and subservient tool of the archaeology lobby.

Can it really be true that Clinton is merely one more meretricious politician whose attention is totally focused upon those activities that create headlines and present politicians in a favorable light? Possibly it is politically unrealistic to expect that she would actually feel responsible for a mandate to ensure that every aspect of State Department activities should be genuinely in the best interests of the American people. It is hard to believe that if she did feel that responsibility, she would allow such an outrage to occur.

Perhaps the real winner in all this destructive turmoil is bureaucracy, which must be gaining a great deal of confidence in the concept that bureaucrats are the real controllers of government, and that their wiles must inevitably outlast and supersede everything ephemeral politicians such as Clinton may attempt to do.

That isn't the concept of government presented to me when I studied civics, and it is hard to believe that any American citizen would contend that the bias of a career bureaucrat such as Maria Kouroupas, who with good reason is widely believed to be the primary proponent of anticollecting ideology in the State Department, should trump the wishes and sense of fair play of the American people.

Now we must await the decision of the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as to the impending request for a MOU with Greece, which provides scope for even more outrageous and damaging import restrictions. Is there any real reason to doubt what that decision will be?

The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is not responding to the desires of the American people. It is not administering the carefully crafted 1983 CPIA for which it is responsible in anything even remotely resembling a fair and even handed manner. This is an agency that is utterly out of control, pursuing an agenda that contravenes the best interests of US citizens. It has made the worst fears of collectors and experts in the antiquities trade, voiced during discussion as to whether the USA should accede to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, into realities.

It's a distressing prospect, by any measure, to contemplate that the actions of bureaucrats who feel no sense of responsibility to the public, drive US cultural property policy. Our nation was founded upon the principle of representative government, whose key concept is government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." That is a very different thing from government "of the archaeologists, by minions of the archaeologists, and for the archaeologists."

To the extent that the US State Department bureaucracy pursues an archaeology-centric approach, we do indeed confront government "of the archaeologists, by minions of the archaeologists, and for the archaeologists."

Clearly it is essential to return to a balanced approach. Hopefully this can be accomplished by democratic and conservative processes, without resort to extreme measures advocated in other stressful times by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle:

"Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !